1993 - Nîmes, France

Carré d'Art

Foster has returned all the grandeur to this square and has created a public space, exquisitely handling stone in the true manner of the Romans.
Le Figaro

Médiathèques exist in most French towns and cities. Typically they embrace magazines and books as well as music, video and cinema. Less common is the inclusion of a gallery for painting and sculpture. In Nîmes, the interaction within the same building of these two cultures – the visual arts and the world of information technology – held the promise of a richer totality. The urban context of Nîmes was also a powerful influence. The site faces the Maison Carrée, a perfectly preserved Roman temple. The challenge was to relate new to the old, but at the same time to create a building that represented its own age with integrity.

The Carré d’Art is articulated as a nine-storey structure, half of which is cut into the ground, keeping the building’s profile low in sympathy with the scale of the surrounding buildings. At the heart of the plan is a glass-roofed atrium, with a cascading staircase, which references the courtyard vernacular of the region. This space exploits the transparency and lightness of modern materials to allow daylight to permeate all floors. The lower levels house archive storage and a cinema. Above are two library floors, with art galleries on the upper two levels. A reception space on the uppermost floor opens out to a shaded café terrace overlooking a public square.

The creation of this urban space was an integral part of the project. Railings, hoardings and parked cars were banished and the space in front of the building was extended to create a pedestrianised place – a social focus and an appropriate setting for the Maison Carrée. Lined with café tables and thronged with people, the square has reinvigorated the social and cultural life of Nîmes. Together with these urban interventions, the Carré d'Art shows how a building project, backed by an enlightened political initiative, can provide a powerful catalyst for reinvigorating the social and physical fabric of a city.

Carré d'Art

Nîmes France

View map
  • Appointment 1984
  • Completion 1993
  • Area 20,400m²
  • Capacity 396,000 visitors per annum
  • Client Ville de Nîmes
  • Structural Engineer Arup, OTH Mediterranee
  • Environmental Engineer OTH Mechanica
  • Lighting Engineer Claude Engle
  • Website http://carreartmusee.com
  • 'Interiors' (USA) Award
  • Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design
  • The central staircase is flooded with light and animated by people at almost any time of day. It feels like an ‘outdoor’ space – an extension of the square.
  • Carré d'Art

  • Foster does not rely on yesterday’s forms to integrate new construction into existing contexts. Instead, he uses the elegance of modern materials and the honest expression of contemporary technology to create abstract but classically inspired spaces.
    Boston Herald
  • It is a model of how to bring a big modern building into an old city centre by employing the best architecture of today - in civic service - to raise the profile and fortune of a provincial centre.
    The Independent